Ask the Captain: Can I fly with medical oxygen? Do airlines provide it or do I bring my own?

·3 min read

I often fly to Wales to visit family. Recently, I received news that oxygen is going to be a permanent travel partner for me. I'm sure oxygen tanks are NOT permitted on aircraft, for very good reasons. Is there any way I can still visit my relatives? Does the airplanes have their own oxygen supply that passengers with breathing problems are allowed to use?

– Ralph, Colon, Michigan

The days of airlines selling you oxygen cylinders are largely over. Now passengers bring their own, FAA-approved portable oxygen concentrators, devices which pull air from the cabin and purify it rather than delivering oxygen from a tank, which may need to be changed out on a longer flight. We took a look at the therapeutic oxygen policies for the three major U.S. airlines:

American Airlines: American has a list of preapproved POCs it allows on board. (These devices pull air from the room rather than a canister.) Prior to boarding, you'll need to check in with a gate agent, who will explain when you can and can't use it in flight as well as check to make sure you know how to operate it and have an adequate battery supply. (You'll need to have enough to power your device for 150% of the flight and connection time.)

These days, airline passengers who require medical oxygen bring their own, FAA-approved portable oxygen concentrators. These devices pull air from the cabin and purify it rather than delivering oxygen from a tank, which may need to be changed out on a longer flight.
These days, airline passengers who require medical oxygen bring their own, FAA-approved portable oxygen concentrators. These devices pull air from the cabin and purify it rather than delivering oxygen from a tank, which may need to be changed out on a longer flight.

Delta Air Lines: While the carrier no longer offers oxygen, it will allow you to bring an FAA-approved portable oxygen concentrator and batteries on your flight as long as you provide at least 48 hours' notice. You'll need to fax or email a request form to the airline's oxygen vendor.

United Airlines: Like the other two airlines, United allows certain, FAA-approved POCs on board. And like Delta, United requires 48 hours' notice if you plan to fly with therapeutic oxygen. You'll need to contact their customer care line and ask for the accessibility desk.

If your own oxygen system is not on your airline's list of approved devices, you can rent one. These devices are often covered by Medicare.

Here are a couple of other factors you need to take into consideration: You’ll need to bring enough batteries to operate your device during connections and layovers. Also, you’ll need to make sure you either have enough batteries to operate a POC throughout the rest of your trip or arrange to get oxygen canisters at your destination. I would encourage you to make sure that you have a complete and verified arrangement throughout your trip.

Don't airlines waste a lot of money by dumping fuel?

– Sameer Sharma, Douglas, Arizona

There is definitely a cost but if the airplane is too heavy to land and has a problem requiring it to return to the departure airport, it is necessary.

Airplanes have maximum landing weights. Take-off weight can be above the landing weight (frequently, it is). If a problem occurs such as an engine, hydraulic, electrical, or pneumatic malfunction, it is necessary to return to the airport and land. If the airplane is over maximum landing weight, fuel must be burned or jettisoned (dumped).

Not all airplanes have fuel dumping capability. Smaller airplanes must burn the fuel or use a special part of their certification allowing overweight landing in an emergency. Larger airplanes must reduce their weight.

The bottom line is this: Yes, it's costly to dump fuel, but it would still have to be burned if it were not dumped.

John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ask the Captain: I need medical oxygen. How can I fly with it?